A return visit to experience the wines of Charlottesville
I appreciate Virginia wine for tackling so many varietals, which makes it hard to pigeon-hole the state as singularly focused on any one varietal (like pinot noir in Oregon). Instead, there is great variety among the 300+ vineyards in the state. Also, I believe that some of the better single varietal wines that are produced in Virginia are from lesser known or underappreciated grape varieties.
For three years, I have written about my love for the wines cultivated in the state that I live in. I appreciate the proximity of wineries to where I live in Northern Virginia, as well as the professional approach to viticulture in our state. Although it appears Virginia has slipped in its rankings in wine production since I last posted (from 5th to 10th), this may simply highlight the opportunity recognized by other states.
I recently reconnected with Virginia wine during a trip to Charlottesville, which anchors the Monticello AVA, where approximately one-quarter of Virginia wineries are located – with more than 80 vineyards, you can barely make a dent in the tasting opportunities surrounding Charlottesville over a weekend visit.
When we go to the Monticello AVA, there are so many great tasting options that it is hard to shortlist which to visit. But we always try to include a tried-and-true favorite, as well as one or two new tasting rooms. Our first stop was the obligatory visit to Michael Shaps’ Wineworks Extended in Charlottesville, which is more like a tap room for sampling wine by the glass or in ‘flights’ of three or four tastings. We cannot get enough of the Shaps Chardonnay, which I consider one of the best in the State of Virginia.
Later that weekend we would be introduced to another Shaps offering from the Honah Lee Vineyard – the Vine Street Project Petit Manseng. We discovered this at Crush Pad Wines, a wine bar and shop that opened in downtown Charlottesville during 2021. This was our first visit to the wine bar and our first taste of a Honah Lee wine and both were sublime. I would recommend Crush Pad Wines as a pre-dinner stop for a snack and wine tasting in downtown.
The surprise stop of this weekend’s wine tour was the Gabriele Rausse winery, which we had never visited before, nor had heard much about previously. The vineyards eponymous owner is Italian born and arrived in the USA to start Barboursville Vineyards and has made wine at or consulted to dozens of other wineries prior to starting his own label, together with his sons, in 1997.
What is interesting about his wines is that the Vino Dal Bosco line focuses on wines produced with minimal sulfite content. Two of these, the Muscat Ottonel and Malvasia Bianca, are amber wines (skin-contact white wines) that are aged in Italian Amphora vessels (clay pots). We have come across wines aged in clay pots – the traditional roman approach to wine fermentation – in Europe, but this is the first we have come across this in Virginia.
Chisholm Vineyards was our last stop on the wine tour and has also become another newfound favorite. The tasting room evokes a cozy farmhouse atmosphere and offers tasting flights as well as snacks. Our favorite was the white wine flight, consisting of a Sparkling Brut of 100% Chardonnay, a still-version of the Chardonnay fermented in neutral French oak, a Vidal Blanc and a Viognier. Rare is it that each selection on a wine flight delights us, but this one did!
As I have mentioned in previous posts regarding a visit to the Monticello AVA, it is possible to make a day trip out of a visit to this area from DC, but it then becomes a very long day. It is also a missed opportunity to not spend an overnight in Charlottesville, which has a very lively restaurant scene in the vicinity of the Downtown Mall.
Note: I am not being compensated for my mention of any of the establishments in this post. I am simply a happy customer.